We do not live in real equality; we live, according to the academic Amelia Valcárcel, in the “mirage of equality“. We have been told that we are equal to men, but when you check the reality, how is it? We see discrimination in employment, wage gaps, trafficking of the women and girls, and so forth. Violence is not just that “things happen to you”, violence is also “something that the system continually exerts against your possibilities, your desires, your talent, your freedom, your security in yourself” as Amelia points out.

An international treaty to face Violence against Women

In 1979, the United Nations adopted the first legally binding text on the agenda of women’s rights with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). As the issue of violence against women was not sufficiently and specifically addressed in this Convention, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women adopted the General Recommendation No. 19 in 1992, and it expanded it in 2017 through the General Recommendation No. 35. These Recommendations develop further on the legal requirements with regards to tackling violence against women; however, they are not enough.

It recognizes that violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of unequal power relations between women and men…

The aim is to make the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence of the Council of Europe (known as the Istanbul Convention) the global legal instrument to combat violence against women. Its main purpose is the protection of women against all forms of violence as well as the prevention, prosecution and elimination of violence against women and domestic violence. This is the way to protect the many rights of women.

The strong points of the Istanbul Convention

It establishes a clear link between gender inequality and violence against women. It recognizes that Violence against Women (VAW) is both a cause and a consequence of unequal power relations between women and men, and claims that it cannot be eradicated without investing in greater gender equality. Therefore, it requires that states to implement gender equality policies to empower women.

Another important point is the clear delimitation between two misinterpreted concepts: “violence against women” (it should be understood as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women (…)) and “domestic violence” (which is understood to be acts of violence that occur within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim).

“Combating violence against women needs to be at the heart of the next EU mandate”

Considering European Court of Human Right’s jurisprudence, this treaty develops a new focus on the victim by emphasizing the importance of treating victims with respect and sensitivity, and putting their rights, needs and security at the centre of all interventions. This includes various forms of violence, such as psychological violence, physical violence, harassment, sexual violence, including rape (within marriage), forced marriages, female genital mutilation, forced abortion and sterilization, sexual harassment, etc.

It also establishes the responsibility of the states to respond promptly and appropriately by providing adequate and immediate protection to the victim (Article 50 CE); ensuring risk assessment and risk management to keep the victim safe (Article 51 EC); taking measures to avoid secondary victimization by targeting the autonomy and economic independence of women victims of violence and establishing protection and providing support services. It also creates a permanent monitoring group for the application of the agreement called GREVIO (Article 66).

Why the EU must ratify the Istanbul Convention as soon as possible

As equality between women and men is one of the founding principles of the EU, eradicating violence against women should be at the centre of EU policies and legislation. Although the EU has different legal texts relating to the protection of women (Directive 2011/99 / EU on the European Protection Order (EPO), (Directive 2012/29 / EU (Victims Directive) or (EU Regulation No. 606/2013), none of them focuses on the fight against gender violence. The European Institute for Gender Equality carries out a great deal of work in the eradication of violence against women, but the legal link provided by a treaty such as the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe is necessary.

We need to put the issue of violence against women as a political priority and at the centre of the EU debate.

In 2017, the EU adhered with its signature to the Istanbul Convention and now its ratification is essential. The EU’s drive is necessary, making use of its right to ratify international treaties to inspire its member states to second it (with their individual ratification). In addition, ratification will demonstrate and strengthen the joint work of the Council of Europe and the EU.

The European Parliament has made numerous calls for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention (Resolution of 12 September 2017, Resolution of 19 April 2018, Resolution of 30 May 2018) and civil society has done it through The European Coalition to end violence against women and girls. However, the treaty has not been ratified yet during this legislature. It is time for the EU to base itself on the rule of the majority and ratify the Istanbul Convention. This should be made a priority for the next European mandate.

In conclusion, if we want a more egalitarian Europe, we must put more feminist people to work in European Parliament. We need to put the issue of violence against women as a political priority and at the centre of the EU debate. Let’s vote in these European Elections in May 2019 to combat violence against women and modify the patriarchal system that sustains it. Let’s vote for a feminist Europe!

Aroa Fandiño Serrano
Aroa Fandiño Serrano is specialist in European Law. She has a degree in Law and two master’s degrees in Law of the European Union and in economics and politics. She worked for the Council of Europe Development Bank and the Brussels Delegation of the Spanish Bar Council. She writes about European affairs in her own blog called www.europeaconvencida.com. She is also member of different feminist and European federalists groups and part of the Brussels group of the “This Time I’m voting” campaign. You can follow Aroa on Twitter at @EUconvencida and Instagram at @europeaconvencida.

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